By Dr. Robin TW Chan and Kellie Schorr
Dr. Robin TW Chan is a pharmacist and medical ethicist in Singapore where the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in January and cases there are escalating. He took time to share his thoughts with us as the world works through this pandemic.
As COVID-19 spread from China’s Wuhan to the rest of the world, people’s reactions to the inevitability of this virus affecting their lives also grew from fear and panic to anger and racism, with some diverting into a dangerous type of denial saying things like, “I couldn’t be bothered” and “it won’t happen to me.”
Early on some thought if they ignore the problem, the virus will go away.
Then the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11th and people watched the WHO outline a world at war against the virus while politicians and governments floundered with difficult decisions. Many went directly back to panic and fear.
Panic, fear and anger are our worst enemies during a time like this because when we have these negative emotions in the back of our mind, we make the worst decisions for all the wrong reasons.
As a Buddhist working during this crisis, I have tried to use some dharma sense to understand the emotions around this and see how we can do better.
As scientists continue to research the chain of events that lead to the coronavirus outbreak, a dominant theory emerged that people eating bats, snakes or pangolins contracted and passed along this virus. Immediately some Buddhist vegetarians linked eating meat as the source of blame for this infection. Others suggested this was karma for the world’s deforestation and the eating of wild animals.
It comforts people to think every event has a single cause or easy solution.
However, instead of putting energy into blame or simplifying the explanation, it is best for Buddhists to see this as an obstacle. All of life experiences obstacles. Thinking that is weak or ignorant, views obstacles with fear or panic, or attempts to avoid them by saying they can’t be bothered to think more about it.
The wise and awakened deal with each obstacle as it is. They gather correct information from authorized and informed sources and decide what is the best step based on skillful means. How do we know what the best skillful action in this circumstance is?
It is the action that can reduce suffering and prevent this infection from spreading.
Buddhism is at its best when Buddhists show compassion for all sentient beings and take care of one another.
What Buddhists Can Do to Help
Act and help others with compassion – Don’t hoard things, and be a voice for those who don’t have what they need. Listen with attentive hearts to people whether they are concerned about the virus, frightened over job loss, or grieving this unwanted change in their world. Don’t engage in racist thought or blame. We are interconnected. This is a time to remember that.
Practice medical mindfulness – Stop touching your face! Wash your hands frequently, and correctly with soap and water. Adhere to social distancing and social isolation practices. Don’t minimize signs of illness, quarantine yourself if there is any question about your health. Exercise self discipline and don’t pass around fake or bad information.
Use skillful methods and apply your wisdom – Treat others with the six perfections—generosity, patience, discipline, effort, wisdom and concentration. Lean deep into your practice. For those who don’t have a steady practice, this is the time to develop one. Act, don’t react.
Take the value of the present moment – Use your time handwashing to say metta or prayers for others, be mindful of where you are right now and how precious it is to have this moment, use your senses to take in and understand as much of this moment as possible.
Understand impermanence, meditate and breathe – We are conditional beings and the things that make up our world, including ourselves, are impermanent. Accept this. We must accept this. Use that knowledge to increase your compassion, and help you create a “new normal” with a strong center supported by meditation and calm.
Learn to let go – Let go of the things you cannot control. Let go of blame. Let go of fear-based behavior. Let go of the idea of “me” and broaden to the understanding of “we.” Let go of “plans”—grieve them, and let them go.
No matter what happens, this pandemic has the potential to realign our world. It is a time for use to learn how to value and care for others, particularly our elderly population. It is a time that will shine a light on the world’s greatness and offer us a chance to learn how to live better and want less. It is a time for us to do better.
In Buddhism we don’t shake hands. We clasp our own hands together when we greet others to show our respect and our value of each other. This is how we can do better.
And always remember that, “This too shall pass.”
Dr. Robin TW Chan works, teaches and learns in a hospital and university in Singapore. He is a simple Buddhist, playing in a temple since he was five years old (destroying many vases and buddha statues) he grew up and got lucky in business and education. Professionally he is a pharmacist with legal training and a Phd. in Biomedical Ethics. He takes care of friends who are dying as an active palliative care befriender and a palliative care pharmacist cum legal advisor. Check out his blog here and follow him on Facebook.
Kellie Schorr works as a commissioned novelist who writes mystery genre novels for traditional publishers. Her published credentials also include: journal articles, short stories, and a two-year stint writing for a web-comic. Kellie’s fiction is represented by the Kathryn Green Literary Agency. Kellie has been practicing meditation for nearly 20 years. Her practice is housed in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. She is currently studying Vajrayana and Dzogchen as a member of the Buddhist Yogis Sangha from Ngapka International. She lives and works in rural Virginia with her partner, Cathy, and three beagles. Her favorite word is chiaroscuro. You can contact or find more about her at The Bottom Line.
Editor: Dana Gornall and Kellie Schorr